Thursday, May 22, 2014

GUANTANAMO: "Is that who we are?"

One year ago, Barack Obama gave a speech purporting to describe a sort of "new face" on U.S. national security.

Millions of people have learned what force-feeding is really about
by watching this video of Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) voluntarily
undergoing force-feeding using the methods employed at Guantanamo.
Notable for those who have been advocating for justice for those wrongfully detained at Guantanamo, President Obama made extended comments on the American practice of indefinite detention and torture:

I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?

(See White House website, Remarks of President Barack Obama, May 23, 2013)

Recently, I have been thinking hard about this question -- "Is that who we are?" -- as have many other people.

I have come to the conclusion that, yes, that is who we are.

The year that has passed since Obama's May 23 speech has been remarkable in part because of the unprecedented growth of a movement against mass incarceration.  A year ago, people were just beginning to talk about a book by Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Today, people everywhere are reading the book, telling others about it, and getting involved in projects at the local and national level to fight back against the racist and authoritarian structures that American life is built on.


Just this past weekend in Chicago, people gathered from around the country to launch a national movement to put a stop to crimes committed by police officers against ordinary civilians. We face a national epidemic of police crimes with deep roots in racism -- affecting the African-American community as well as all people of color, with harsh treatment dealt out to undocumented people, LGBT people, women, Muslims, and people involved in the labor, peace, and solidarity movements. As Angela Davis said at the rally concluding the National Forum on Police Crimes, “We are experiencing an epidemic of police violence and police shootings.” (See The Chicago Reporter, Davis: Police violence has hit a 'crisis' point)

The campaign to support Rasmea Odeh
is a current focus of opponents of
persecution of Muslims in the U.S.
One of the most incisive statements made at the Forum came from Muhammad Sankari, of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago. Sankari talked about the FBI's single-minded focus on manufacturing an uninterrupted stream of cases against Muslims, using an elaborate modus operandi of preemptive prosecution, amounting to what Trevor Aaronson has documented as a "terror factory." (The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism) As Sankari explained, when people everywhere unite to fight back against the illegitimate prosecution and persecution of Muslims, they are making an important contribution to the leading edge of resistance against the racist and political repression that affects the African-American community as well as all people of color, with harsh treatment dealt out to undocumented people, LGBT people, women, Muslims, and people involved in the labor, peace, and solidarity movements; and when Muslims join in the broad movement against racist and political repression that affects all these groups, they are contributing to the resistance against prosecution and persecution of Muslims.

So . . . as we prepare in Chicago and over 60 other cities around the world to protest the unending stain of Guantanamo detention, I am thinking,

"Yes, unfortunately, this is who we are."

"It can be different."

"It will take a mass movement."

Related posts

Cook County Jail is the perfect example of the nationwide injustice that Michelle Alexander described in her groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration, focused principally one people of color, in which "crimes" (often related to drug possession or other low-level offenses) become the mechanism for entrapping people in a cycle of incarceration that is brutalizing and often begins a downward spiral of lifetime discrimination.

(See Free Them All )

Naturally, the jury in the NATO3 case has no reason to buy into Anita Alvarez's narrative about the threat of terrorism from ordinary citizens and how it justifies a culture of fear and a militarized, all-seeing, secret-driven police state. Which is not to say that they're not concerned about terrorism.

(See In Chi-town USA: got terrorism?)






For the next three months, people will be talking about the film 12 Years a Slave and its Oscar prospects. And well they should. The film is about the experiences of the free man, Solomon Northrup, who was seized and enslaved for twelve years, and it may be the best thing ever to come along for enabling us to confront the true meaning of our history of oppression and racism in America. But it's not just about history. 

(See 12 Years a Detainee)